Thursday, September 07, 2006

Improving New York City Schools: Who’s Got the Power?

As The New York Times reported this morning, lawyers for NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg are arguing that he does not have the power to mandate reduced classroom sizes in city schools. A group of parents and teachers have collected more than 70,000 signatures in attempt to put the issue on the ballot in November.
The referendum would ask voters whether the City Charter should be amended to require the mayor to set aside 25 percent of any unencumbered funds received from the state through the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit and to spend it on reducing class size.

Bloomberg’s lawyers claim that the authority to spend any resulting money belongs to the city’s Department of Education, which should not be viewed as an extension of the city government. Proponents of the referendum, on the other hand, point to Bloomberg’s campaign in 2002 to gain mayoral control over city schools, arguing that the resulting law gave him, along with other prerogatives, the power to require the reduction of class sizes.

It is fitting that there is a fight in NYC over the power to spend money resulting from the CFE case, since the main constitutional question in the CFE appeal is whether the court even has the power to mandate appropriation of the funds in the first place. In our recent amicus brief to the Court of Appeals, we argued that it is appropriate and even necessary for the Court to mandate the allocation of funds because the dysfunction of the legislature has rendered any legislative relief unlikely. After more than 10 years of litigation, it is still unclear if, when, and how a sufficient sum of money will be appropriated to New York City schools to fix the constitutional deficiencies the Court has previously identified. We hope to see the Court issue an enforceable order mandating that New York State's government take the needed steps to do so, but I guess it remains to be seen who will be in charge of the money after that.

Categories: General

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